Website Review: ADS

Full Name: The Archaeology Data Service
Content: An integrated metadata search facility for information about archaeological interventions, sites and monuments in the UK; project archives with data available for download; special collections where discrete data sets can be queried using online tools; library resources such as digitized pamphlets, books and journals, bibliographic databases, electronic theses and dictionaries
Authorship: Julian Richards (dir.) with 11 staff members, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK; original contributors
Host/Maintenance: Arts & Humanities Research Council, Bristol, UK, and Arts and Humanities Data Service, London, UK; maintained by ADS staff; no update frequency stated (last press release dates back to January 2005, last database entry to June 2008)
Permanence/Archiving: This site has pioneered data archiving in archaeology, has published a variety of “best-practice” guides, and has done much to ensure long term availability and usability of archaeological data. However, like many digital repositories, long-term security of its funding is not clear (funding was up in the air for a while but is now back); archiving according to the Open Archival Information System guidelines
Licensing: Not to be used for profit or commercial advantage; separate copyright page; copyright remains with the original contributors/institutions

ADS entry page

Usefulness: ADS serves as the UK-wide repository of archaeological research with content that varies in depth but is still one of the first places to go for any UK archaeological data
Ease of Use: it is more a collection of disparate collections and databases than an integrated whole; these idiosyncratic subsets can easily be used on their own, disregarding the rest of ADS (e.g., The Oxford Expedition to Egypt, Scenes-details Database; review); it isn’t always easy to locate one of these subsets unless you know the exact wording; the ArchSet subset uses a simple map interface to allow locating very basic info on any and all UK archaeological sites
Appeal: the basic design is adequate but not designed in an obvious, transparent way; it looks as if has grown organically through time; subsets may have their own branded web design, even going so far as to omit any reference to ADS; no consistent use of media
Accessibility: a Google search for “archaeological database uk” led straight to the site; individual subsets or artifacts are not easy to find; often, one finds oneself somewhere deep in the site without an obvious way to get back to higher levels
Credibility: the site is backed by a university, with a dedicated staff and funded by national semi-government institutions; it seems that a lot of its promise still lies in the future (funding may be an issue here?); the content is of use but varied in quality/depth; there’s an extensive collections policy and citations follow the Harvard referencing system
Reuse: ADS has its own special “terms and conditions” and license-like agreement. Because these aren’t widely adopted common standards like Creative Commons licenses, reuse of ADS materials (or combining these materials with content from other sources) is not straightforward in a legal sense. Because this is a repository of discrete datasets organized by metadata and not a more integrated system, downloads of data vary from dataset to dataset. Many datasets have comma delimited text available (CSV), and other datasets have data available in other formats. There is no clear site wide web-service to enable software to easily retrieve specific datasets.

example page from the Oxford Expedition to Egypt: Scene-details Database subset of ADS

ADS is an exemplary initiative but not for the uninitiated. It boasts a huge and growing collection of data and it would be hard to imagine archaeology in the UK without it. Nevertheless, better integration, more transparency, more media and linkage to the wider web would be useful (but maybe planned). Its audience seems to be professional. It is in a way more a repository of disparate materials than a coherent UK archaeological database—one can always dream, right?

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